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Too early to state if UK Covid strain deadlier, say scientists

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independent.ie- Senior scientists in the UK have questioned the British Government’s decision to rush out data suggesting the new UK variant of Covid-19 has a 30pc increased mortality rate.

The data, presented by Prime Minister Boris Johnson at Friday’s Downing Street briefing, suggested the variant first spotted at the end of last year may be deadlier than the original strain.

However, several scientists yesterday said that it was too early to draw “strong conclusions” from the data.

Dr Mike Tildesley, a member of a Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies subgroup, said: “I was surprised the news had been announced at a news conference. It seems to have gone up a little bit from about 10 people per thousand to about 13, which is a small rise, but it’s based on a relatively small amount of data. I would be wanting to wait for a week or two more, monitoring a little bit more before we draw really strong conclusions.”

Public Health England medical director Dr Yvonne Doyle said it is still not “absolutely clear” the new variant is more deadly than the original strain. She said more work was needed to determine whether it may be associated with “a higher degree of mortality” as stated by Johnson.

“It is too early to say,” she told the BBC.

Scientists have pointed out while the new variant shows a relative increase in mortality rates, the absolute risks for older people are far higher than for those in a younger age bracket. For those in their 60s, the risk of dying if infected with Covid goes from 10 people in 1,000 under the old variant, to 13 in a 1,000 with the new strain. But for those in their 80s the risk of dying goes from 80 in 1,000 to 100 in 1,000 and for those in their 90s from 200 in 1,000 to 270 in 1,000.

Professor David Spiegelhalter, Winton Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk, said: “Based on the findings there is a huge difference in the impact of the new strain depending on how old you are.”

Professor Peter Horby, from the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group, defended Johnson’s decision to announce the news, saying: “If we were not telling anybody about this news we would be accused of covering it up.”